New York City

Foundation Targets Black Maternal Mortality After Loss of NYC Mother: ‘We're Not Statistics'

The maternal mortality rates in the U.S. is one of the highest in the developed world, and Black women are several times more likely to die during childbirth than white women

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New father Bruce McIntyre says the death of his son's mother could, and should have been prevented.

It's that motivation, to protect other Black families from the same loss as McIntyre, that brought about a new foundation named after Amber Rose Isaac. The 26-year-old Bronx woman and mother-to-be died after an emergency c-section operation to bring her son Elias into the world.

Black women are three-to-four times more likely to die in child birth than white women. And of those deaths, the Centers for Disease Control says 60 percent are preventable.

"What wasn't there to love about her? Amber was just a phenomenal woman. What I liked most about her was how caring she was. Amber always had that motherly essence to her," McIntyre says.

That very essence compounds the tragedy for McIntyre, who's still haunted by the words of a doctor on what should have been the happiest day of his life.

"The first thing that came out of [the doctor's] mouth was, 'I'm sorry for your loss.'"

"I never got to see her hold him, play with him. I don't have no pictures of them together and it absolutely destroys me," McIntyre says.

Bruce McIntyre discusses the death of his son's mother, Amber Rose Isaac
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Bruce McIntyre says the foundation named after Amber Rose Isaac will focus on lowering maternal mortality rates among Black women.

While raising Elias, he has found a mission. McIntyre is fighting to change the chilling reality that face many Black mothers in the U.S. during childbirth.

"I feel like the longer I wait to act, more families are in danger and more children are losing their mothers - more partners are losing their spouses," he says.

The numbers are worse in New York, where Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications, that's according to the New York City Department of Health.

"Amber would definitely be here is she was white," McIntyre says. It was the doctors at Montefiore Hospital, he says, that failed to diagnose Isaac with a condition called HELLP syndrome: a complication of high blood pressure.

Isaac, healthy at 26 years old, sensed trouble. She tweeted shortly before her death: "Can't wait to write a tell all about my experience during my last two trimesters dealing with incompetent doctors."

"Within the medical system there's been this repetitive pattern to where it comes to African American women, valuable information is failed to be delivered," McIntyre says.

The New York Health Foundation found it's a chronic condition - noting "implicit racial biases by health care providers have been associated with less accurate diagnoses, curtailed treatment options and worse clinical outcomes for minority patients."

"Of course we have to look at society. Racism and bias are part of society and it shows up in healthcare as well," says David Sandman of the NYS Health Foundation.

Other studies show higher income and education levels make little difference.

"A Black mother with a college education is 60 percent greater risk than a White woman with less than a high school education," says Dr. Laurie Zephyrin.

Celebrity is no insurance either. Tennis star Serena Williams had a life-threatening scare after the birth of her first child and says she felt disregarded by doctors. Citing racial disparities, she said, "I hope my story can inspire a conversation that gets us to close this gap."

For Denis Semple and Rayshema Washington, that gap is an abyss. They still don't know why their 26-year-old daughter Sha-Asia died at Woodhull Hospital while giving birth.

"I was there to see my daughter pass away... no father should have to see their daugther born and die," Semple says.

Woodhull Hospital wouldn't answer specific questions about Sha-Asia's death but in a statement to NBC New York offered "heartfelt condolences" and noted "the persistently high rates of maternal mortality that disproportionately affects people of color is a grave, national crisis."

"We know we need to listen to mom. We know we need to address explicit and and implicit bias, we know we need to address the root causes of social inequalities that impact health," Dr. Zephyrin says.

"They need to understand that we're not statistics. We're people with families," McIntyre says. He too, wants more answers about Isaac's death.

Montefiore Hospital also declined to answer specific questions but said, "any maternal death is a tragedy" and highlighted that its maternal mortality rate was lower than the New York City and national averages.

"If Amber would have received standard care she would be here. There's no if and or buts," McIntyre says.

And that's what McIntyre wants now for every mothers of color. He launched the Save-A-Rose Foundation to pressure health care providers, to get politicians focused on the crisis.

"I want Elias to see who his mother was and how she impacted the community, the world. I want him to know that his mother was a super hero," McIntyre says.

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